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CAMPAIGN TRAIL

Courting With Cash? USDP Dogged by Vote-Buying Accusations

Burma’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party has disproportionately faced allegations of vote-buying and other ethical impropriety as the general election campaign season has unfolded.


As the 60-day campaign period for Burma’s Nov. 8 general election winds down, many parties and candidates are likely beginning to scrape the bottom of the campaign finance barrel. While most small parties have told The Irrawaddy that their ability to fund candidates is limited, one party that does not appear to have struggled with financial constraints is the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Along with the National League for Democracy (NLD), the USDP has fielded candidates nationwide, though it is the latter that has disproportionately faced allegations of vote-buying and other ethical impropriety as the campaign season has unfolded.

Below, The Irrawaddy has compiled a timeline of many of these instances. Some, if true, would constitute violations of election law, while others occupy a legal or ethical gray area. For an incumbent government, are public works projects in an election year inherently political? Is provision of utilitarian campaign merchandise at no charge “vote-buying,” or simply good campaign strategy?

All of these cases, regardless, must be factored in when it comes time for post-election day assessments of the extent to which the Nov. 8 vote was free and fair.

This timeline will be updated as events unfold.

October

Than Htay, the former minister for rail transportation and USDP central committee member, held a rally on Oct. 29 at the Tharrawaddy District football pitch in Tharrawaddy, Pegu Division. The pitch is under the management of Burma’s Ministry of Sports, which had earlier said it would not allow the space to be used for party politics. The Tharrawaddy Township NLD said it would file a complaint with the UEC about it. — The Irrawaddy Burmese website on Oct. 29

The NLD candidate for Maubin Township’s Lower House seat, Sein Win, filed a complaint with the Maubin District election subcommission on Oct. 26, claiming that the USDP used vehicles from government departments and the Maubin Township City Development Committee in its campaigning. The complaint alleges that the infraction took place during an Oct. 20 rally that involved a convoy of vehicles and more than 1,000 supporters, with accusations that civil servants were also enlisted to canvass support for the USDP on the occasion. — Daily Eleven on Oct. 28

A People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE) report on the poll monitoring organization’s observations over the first six weeks of the campaign period found that the USDP had made more donations, both in terms of cash and gifts in kind, including refreshments and clothing, than any other political party. The Irrawaddy on Oct. 27

Civil servants from some ministries in Naypyidaw said that strangers had distributed pocket calendars to them on Oct. 23. The cover of the calendars features a photo of President Thein Sein with a text that reads: “Our Government, Our President, Let’s vote for Our President.” — 7 Day Daily on Oct. 24

The USDP’s co-chairman, Htay Oo, organized a large donation ceremony together with private companies at Yan Aung Myin Pagoda in Dekkhinathiri Township, Naypyidaw, on Oct. 10. At the event, they offered meals to monks and laypeople in attendance. Htay Oo said the ceremony was a normal monthly donation and not a rally or otherwise political. — 7 Day Daily on Oct. 15

President’s Office Minister Aung Min, who is running for an Upper House seat in Shadaw Township, Karenni State, made donations at villages across the township, and promised that he would provide six months’ worth of food supplies if elected. He reportedly presented baseball caps, umbrellas and raincoats for each household. He also provided monasteries, schools, churches and the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) with medicines and umbrellas. — Daily Eleven on Oct. 11

Locals in Rangoon’s Kyauktan Township said Union Minister for Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development Ohn Myint, who is a candidate for Parliament’s Lower House in their constituency, gave attendees of his rally longyis and money amounting to between 5,000 kyats (US$3.85) and 10,000 kyats per head. — Daily Eleven on Oct. 5

A electrical transformer was officially put into commission in a ceremony in Barlar village, Hlegu Township, on Oct. 1, and Union Minister for Electric Power Khin Maung Soe, who will run for the Lower House in the township, attended the ceremony. The NLD’s Hlegu Township chapter filed a complaint with the police station against Khin Maung Soe and two other USDP candidates—one for the Upper House and another for a Rangoon divisional legislature seat—for misappropriation of state property, claiming that USDP flag poles were erected at the ceremony with USDP stickers also stuck to the new transformer. — 7 Day Daily on Oct. 4

September

Trishaw drivers in Rangoon’s Thaketa Township said the USDP had asked them to fly the ruling party flag on their trishaws for 5,000 kyats in compensation. — Daily Eleven on Sept. 20

In the run-up to campaign season, USDP candidates Gen. Hla Htay Win (retired), Minister of Defense Lt-Gen Wai Lwin, Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation Myint Hlaing and the retired director-general of the Department of Agriculture, Kyaw Win, made donations in the Naypyidaw Union Territory in the name of rural electrification and free medical care. An NLD candidate said he would file a complaint with the UEC about it, but USDP candidates responded that they had made the donations purely out of goodwill and not in a bid to win voters’ favor. — Daily Eleven on Sept. 6 and 7 Day Daily on Sept. 7

May

Since May, President’s Office Minister Soe Thane, who is running for an Upper House seat in Bawlake Township, Karenni State, has spent about $235,000 to build schools, construct water pipelines and supply electricity in the name of government-funded regional development projects and also organized a football tournament called the “U Soe Thane Cup,” according to Sai Naing Naing Htwe of the Kayah Unity Democracy Party. — Myanmar Times, Sept. 3

Research compiled by Wei Yan Aung.